Big Stores Turn Organic

This year, it’s been announced that Costco has passed Whole Foods in organic food sales. Whole Foods sells approximately $3.6 billion worth of organics each year, whereas Costco exceeded $4 billion. In percentages, this is not much of Costco’s $114 billion in sales, but it shows that customers are relying on other stores to provide them with organic produce. With the US selling $36 billion worth of organic food each year, one out of ten dollars spent on organic food is spent at Costco.

A shopper pushes a cart outside Costco Wholesale in Danvers, Mass. Wednesday, May 27, 2009. Costco Wholesale Corp. said Thursday that its fiscal third-quarter profit fell 29 percent, partly because of a charge, as sales of bigger-ticket discretionary items continued to soften. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Between 2013 and 2014, the market for organics has increased 12%. Now organic foods account for over 4% of US food sales. Stores not associated with organics are starting to jump on the bandwagon.

Most controversial has been Walmart’s announcement of a relaunching of the Wild Oats brand in April of 2014. The prices of Wild Oats are intended to compete with conventional food, giving customers affordable organic food and also driving down the prices of other organic foods.

There are mixed feelings about Walmart going organic. Initially, it seems like good news, but Walmart’s reputation has others anxious about the move. In 2006, Walmart’s Horizon organic milk was accused of not providing cows enough pasture and adding illegal additives to the milk. The same year, Walmart was also caught hanging organic food signs in non-organic food sections of their stores. Now that Walmart is trying to profit on the organic food market, we wonder if they might compromise the organic label. Stores tend to keep food suppliers as a trade secret. The secret locations may not be producing food according to organic standards, and the consumer would never know. The lack of farmland in the US also means that much of our organic food is grown overseas, making the label even less transparent. While we hope Wild Oats and Walmart will join the organic market honorably, we will have to wait and see.


Other big stores have been joining the organic bandwagon. Over half of the country’s Kroger’s have a store within a store called Nature’s Market, which is devoted solely to natural foods. Kroger’s also has its own natural food line – Simple Truth. Target has its own natural brands: Archer Farms, Market Pantry, and Simply Balanced. Shaw’s and Star Market has Wild Harvest. Hannaford has Nature’s Place.

While not all big supermarkets have jumped on the organic train, we are seeing more and more organics under the fluorescent lighting of American supermarkets, which will draw more attention to the organic movement, inspire more farmers to grow organically, and ultimately drive prices down until we can all afford to eat organically.


What Makes Something USDA Organic?

Have you ever wandered through the aisles of the supermarket and spotted food that was labeled “USDA organic”? Have you ever wondered what that really meant?

The US has three levels of organic food: “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients.” To be “100% organic,” the food must be made entirely with certified organic ingredients. To be “organic,” the food must have 95% organic ingredients. “Made with organic ingredients” means the food consists of at least 70% of organic ingredients, but it cannot display the USDA seal. The multi-ingredient foods under these labels cannot have any artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. Certain processed additives are approved, such as enzymes for yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, and baking soda in baked goods. All non-organic ingredients cannot be produced with genetic engineering or other prohibited practices.USDA-organic

In crops, no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or additives can be used. No organic crops can be genetically modified. The farmland on which crops are grown must be free from prohibited chemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) for at least 3 years. All non-certified organic crops must be kept separate from organic ones. Farmers are subject to periodic on-site inspections as well as random, surprise inspections. These may include tests on soil, water, and plant tissue.

For animals, all livestock must meet health and welfare standards. They cannot have antibiotics or growth hormones. They must be 100% organically fed. All animals have a minimum pasture time, depending on the species.

The title “organic” is legally restricted. If there is a product not meeting organic standards, you can file a complaint with the USDA; all complaints are investigated. But you can rest assured that if something says “organic” it will meet these standards.